Where Do We Take Our Instructions?

Vincent Di Stefano

We tend as a society to remove from sight those realities that may disturb our sense of order, of control, of comfort, of civilised pleasantness. It is very tempting to arrange things so that one lives a predictable and well-cushioned life shielded from the human wreckage that lies just below the surface. Yet something as simple as spending an hour or two in a railway carriage outside of peak hour can reveal how wafer-thin the veneer of social order and civility can be. And the surprising number of young people begging for food and money in and around the streets of central Melbourne reveals further what lies behind the façade of affluence and self-satisfaction that is everywhere projected. One does not need to walk the streets of Calcutta to know the faces of the dispossessed and the privation and deep need that everywhere burdens the life of so many.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born of a peasant family in Albania in 1910. Her father died when she was a young child and she was raised in the simple faith of her community. She joined the Loreto Sisters at the age of 18, having already decided when she was 12 years old that she would one day serve as a missionary in India. After a short stay in Ireland, she arrived in north India in 1929. Over the next 20 years, she formalised her religious vows and served as a teacher in a Loreto convent school for girls in Calcutta.

In 1948 after experiencing a profoundly transformative personal revelation, she departed the convent, replaced her regular Loreto habit with a plain blue-lined cotton sari, and immersed herself in the street life of Calcutta. After securing modest accommodation, she immediately started a small school for girls and began visiting the destitute and the dying who were everywhere to be found in the city. Her work was sanctioned by Rome in 1952 and the small group of women that had formed around her took on the name "Missionaries of Charity."

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